Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble & Oliver Knussen - Stravinsky: The Soldier's Tale - All Music
The centerpiece of this 2017 release on Linn Records is Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) in an English translation, which features Dame Harriet Walter as the Narrator, Sir Harrison Birtwistle as the Soldier, and George Benjamin as the Devil, supported by the Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble, conducted by Oliver Knussen. However, the album is much more than a complete and highly entertaining performance of this innovative theatrical work, which was one of Stravinsky’s most influential yet inimitable compositions of the period following World War I. Almost equally deserving of attention are the short compositions that serve as a frame for L’Histoire du soldat, and which share an affinity with it through their dry sonorities, closely woven counterpoint, and apparent lack of emotional affect. These aphoristic pieces by Stravinsky (Fanfare for a New Theatre, Double Canon Raul Dufy in memoriam, and the Epitaphium für das Grabmal des Prinzen Max Egon zu Fürstenberg); Birtwistle (two versions of the Chorale from a Toy Shop and the Tombeau in memoriam Igor Stravinsky); and Peter Maxwell Davies (Canon ad honorem Igor Stravinsky and the Canon in memoriam Igor Stravinsky) point to the rather cerebral style that Stravinsky cultivated as “objectivity,” and the impact his music had on the following generation of composers. The program works surprisingly well as an intellectual exercise, particularly for those who are predisposed toward this aspect of modernism, but most listeners will find L’Histoire du soldat easiest to follow and enjoy as entertainment.